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Emily Wick PhD '51, MIT's first female professor to earn tenure, dies at 91

Chemist and nutrition scientist was a pioneer in women's rights on campus and loved sailing.
Emily Wick participates in a 1997 panel discussion on the history of women at MIT.
Emily Wick participates in a 1997 panel discussion on the history of women at MIT.
Image: MIT Video Productions
Emily Wick
Emily Wick
Photo courtesy of <i>The Boston Globe</i>

Emily Wick, the first female faculty member to earn tenure at MIT, died peacefully in her home in Rockport, Mass., on March 21, 2013. She was 91.

Wick was born on Dec. 9, 1921, in Youngstown, Ohio. She attended Mount Holyoke College where she earned her BS in chemistry and her MA in organic chemistry. In 1946, Emily joined the MIT community as a PhD candidate in the chemistry department. She received her degree in 1951.

After working several years for A.D. Little, Wick returned to MIT as assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science in 1959. In 1963 she became the first woman to reach the rank of tenured faculty at the Institute, and she was appointed associate dean of students in 1965.

Wick made numerous contributions to the MIT community. Together with Professor Mildred Dresselhaus, she established the Women’s Forum, which convened faculty, staff, undergraduates and graduate students to discuss issues from women’s health to career opportunities. She was an active advocate for female students and assisted them in navigating the predominantly male environment of the day. She was also instrumental in eliminating gender considerations from the Institute’s admissions criteria and ensuring that female students, faculty and staff had an equal voice and role on MIT’s campus.

In 1973, she returned to her alma mater, Mount Holyoke, where she served as dean of the faculty and later as special assistant to the president for long-range planning. She maintained her ties to MIT, however, by serving as an alumni term member of the MIT Corporation from 1978 to 1983. She retired in 1986 and returned to her home in Rockport.

Wick was also an avid sailor. From the age of 10 until very recently she spent much of her free time on the water. Over the course of her life, she was the skipper of a Star Boat, a Jolly Boat, a Firefly and finally a Bullseye. She was the first woman commodore of the Sandy Bay Yacht Club in Rockport. She was also influential in the development of the women’s varsity sailing team at MIT, which began in 1969 when the athletic department funded a coaching position dedicated to women sailors — the first in the country. In recognition of her work, MIT alumnae organized the Emily Wick Regatta, held annually, and the Emily L. Wick trophy eventually became the Intercollegiate Women's Sailing Championship trophy. Wick’s life and contributions were honored during a moment of reflection at this year’s regatta held earlier this month.

Wick is survived by her nephew, Jim Wick, of Shelburne, Vt.; and four nieces, Laura Hallowell of Rockport and her two children, Susanne and Stephen; Louise (Dan) DeSantis of Somersworth, N.H., and her children, Peter and Madeline; Emily W. Schaff of Youngstown, Ohio; and Anne Schaff of Portland, Maine. Memorial contributions may be made to the Sandy Bay Yacht Club Sailing Program and Scholarship Fund Inc., or to Hospice of the North Shore.

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